Making New Aesthetic theory slightly more concrete

Bruce Sterling responds to Marius Watz's take on Sterling's manifesto about the "New Aesthetic" movement. Sterling is enthusiastic about Watz's views, and begins to move the discussion of "New Aesthetics" from total abstractions to slightly more concrete abstractions. If Sterling's earlier, dense missive left you somewhat mystified, this one might help you unpack things somewhat.

So let’s consider “bad tech-art.” What does it look like? Well, it is, commonly, some poorly-designed, haywire, deeply private, almost chaotic device and/or installation — accompanied by a long, vague exegesis about its huge significance. This artwork barely fun ctions, communicates badly to people, is opaque to interpretation, breaks down frequently, and is generally accompanied by a tortured justification direct from the artist himself.

That is the melancholy spectacle of an art-hacker isolated by his hardware. He has never been able to mentally place his artwork within a context of similar creative activity. He or she is a one-person artistic Long-Tail.

His artwork has failed to get social traction, because, although it’s plenty weird, this creative is poorly-socialized. He’s a pioneer, not a native. He’s a Robinson Crusoe in goatskins, and despite the fact that his IQ is high enough to boil lead, he’s easily classifiable as a weirdly ingenious derelict marooned on some tiny island.

That island that consist of his hard-won private expertise in, for instance, building drawing-machines out of British ex-military gunsights. This hacker-artist-crackpot-inventor is hung-up on the bit-twiddling hack minutiae — most of which he had to invent, all by himself, in a splendid isolation.

He had no ready way to learn, for instance, that he isn’t “new,” because Jean Tinguely did “kinetic art” and “metamechanics” in the mid-20th century. He didn’t Google Jean Tinguely. He didn’t drop by the Jean Tinguely Tumblr. Congenial Swiss fans of Jean Tinguely on the network did not get him up to speed. Not being a digital native, he was entirely busy with the Crusoe crescent wrench, and never developed such healthy modern habits. He lacked tech-art scenius. He never got critical mass.

Now, this bad tech-artist knows that his homemade device doesn’t work very well. In fact, he’ll make a fetish of that defect, leaving it snarled in frazzled wire so that it looks more Bohemian, somehow. However, since he lacks an aesthetic to give his efforts some rigor and context, he retreats into bad metaphysics. He’ll rename his installation as the “Cosmic Mental Synchronizer” — some far-fetched breach of taste along that line.

Generation Generator (New Aesthetic)

(Image source unknown; found on New Aesthetic Tumblr, which sources The Internet: by Greg Johnson)


    1. Who is the Emperor in your analogy? And what are the clothes? And what is the skin? I’ll presume you think you are the little boy.

      1. I’m not sure if your questions are in earnest, or addressed in a spirit parodic of the rather circuitous nature of much NA discussion.  If in earnest: the Emperor’s New Clothes analogy is usually employed where  some novel cultural or artistic phenomenon is being widely touted as possessing considerable brilliance and substance; the Emperor is the new cultural or artistic phenomenon; the clothes are the purported brilliance and substance, of which, if the analogy holds, there is none; the skin being merely an fanciful addition to the initial analogy to suggest the greater lack thereof; it is not necessary for the user of the analogy to take on or personify any specific character in the tale, the whole phenomenon being a means of expressing an opinion by means of a linguistic borrowing, rather than an attempt to literally re-enact the whole of the yarn.

        1. I know the story. The Sterling article puts forward that the “perpetual novelty” viewpoint is stunting the development of generative art.

          So are you saying, “Silly Sterling, generative art is inherently stunted because it isn’t real art,” or are you saying, “That’s right, Sterling, the fixation on perpetual novelty is stopping us from seeing clearly.”

          1. Neither.  I was expressing a knee-jerk and doubtless unfounded opposition to the whole gamut of the New Aesthetic.  I haven’t been able to make it all the way through any of the articles yet – I guess my comment might have been better phrased: I trying to get to grips with this, and haven’t c0me to any firm conclusions, but dammit thus far my spidey sense for pretentious horseshit is going hog-wild.

          2. Oh, okay. I had only read Sterling’s last response. Now that I read the other two, I might have put too much emphasis on the generative art.

  1. oooh this is the first time ive heard of  “new aesthetic”  and i think its freaking adorable i just wanna hug the hell out of it. infact i think im gonna try to go make some “new aesthetic” right now and see if i cant get some one to buy it.

    1. I can certainly see how “Oh, you can’t interpret this new art using that old aesthetic, you need this new aesthetic” would some across like an attempt to hoodwink you. (Maybe like the green glasses for the emerald city.)

      But I also have a kneejerk reaction to accusations of pretension. Is there a reverse fable? “The Country of the Blind,” maybe?

      1. Yes, indeed, it may be that Sterling is attempting to enlighten those of us who dwell in the dank cave as to the true nature of those objects whose mere flickering shadows we have taken for all the world, and the New Aesthetic may well be a kind of three-dimensional object moving through the Flatland of my brain…..but I’m all fabled-out at this juncture!

  2. I read, hear “New Aesthetic” and I think old, tired, pretentious, ugly, unconscious, elitist, not at all new or aesthetic, did I say pretentious? If you tell me that is the point, I will respond, “I don’t give a fuck what you meant to say.” Call me cynical . . . or experienced.

  3. Complaining that modern art is pretentious is like complaining that modern cakes are fattening…

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